Friday, July 3, 2009

Character Flaws -- How Much Do We Need Them?

How important are character flaws? I'm not going to sit here and say that there is no reason to give your characters flaws. I couldn't take myself seriously if I did that. But let's face it, some people are good people, and though they have unattractive characteristics and moments of imperfection, they don't come with a whole host of flaws.

While I get bored with the unreality of the inexplicably perfect character like other people do, I do believe that there are some people who are good, nice, and without obvious flaws and that these people aren't necessarily uninteresting. I've met one person who is nigh perfect, and he is anything but boring.

One reader pointed out my main guy as being a little too perfect. She said he should have some flaws to round him out. I thought about that. When I thought of him, he was just a nice guy. He's patient, loyal, and honest. And I'd like him to stay a nice guy. Otherwise there'd be no reason for him to have friends, let alone get the girl. (Yeah, I know, jerks get the girl a lot in the real world, but I'd like to think my MC has better sense that to fall in love with a jerk.)

As far as I'm concerned, he is "flawed" is some respects. He is incapable of going for what he really wants. He's secretly in love with the MC, but instead of doing something about it, he just decides to watch things play out while she could be falling for another guy. That kind of behavior annoys the heck out of me in people, so why shouldn't it be his annoying quality? I don't want him to drink to excess, speak with an annoyingly nasal voice, or have a debilitating allergy to peanuts. I like him the way he is.

Is it enough for characters to have only one or two imperfections? What's really rounding a character out, and what's just making them flawed for the sake of trying to round them out? Are some people just without discernible flaws and is that boring?

(For other thoughts on the subject, click here.)


  1. Honestly, I've always been irritated by the "tragic flaw" concept. The idea that a hero is actually an anti-hero or that a villain is just misunderstood.

    I don't agree that characters should be cookie cutters of stereotypes because that is unrealistic. I do think, however, that a character can be dynamic without having some traumatic past or fatal flaw (ex. alcoholism, drug addiction, depression etc.)

    Some characters are normal and that is the way it is...without the addictions, traumas, etc. It's ok because it is a reflection of real life too. Not everyone is going to experience major drama in their life, but everyone will face day to day struggles.

    I believe that the same can be applied to characters in a story. What makes a character interesting (in my opinion) are the struggles that are presented to him and how he handles them. People are looking at characters and are curious as to what decisions they'll make given the circumstances: Will the honest and frank woman tell her best friend that she saw her husband with another woman? Will the righteous leader risk the lives of some for the lives of millions?

    I believe it is the struggles that a character is presented with is what drives a story.

  2. I suppose I don't think in terms of good points and flaws, in real life or in fiction. It's more a case of complexity and I'd have trouble believing in a fictional character who didn't show some complexity. I'm not sure how that translates into the traditional "need some flaws" way of looking at characters.

  3. Thank you for this post. Justus's post made me think a bit about this too. I agree that some characters are just plain good. But if they are your main protagonist, they do need to have some sort of flaw or something to overcome. I think I say that because for a story to be satisfactory to me, I need to see growth in the main characters.

    I don't think good = no flaws. My main character is a pretty great guy, but he's made some mistakes, and he might make some more. But I don't see those as huge tragic flaws. He's just human and complex, as fairyhedgehog says. I like the term complex instead of flawed. It's a great way to look at it.